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'Off the job and onto the picket line': UC workers authorize mass strike

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JONATHAN HALE | SENIOR STAFF

United Auto Workers authorized a strike for graduate student workers and post-doctoral researchers to advocate for a salary increase to cover the cost of living.

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NOVEMBER 07, 2022

United Auto Workers, or UAW, voted to authorize a strike Wednesday consisting of postdoctoral researchers, or postdocs, academic researchers, or ARs, academic student employees, or ASEs, and graduate student researchers, or GSRs.

The strike is slated to start Nov. 14 with no set end date, according to political science department strike captains Anna Weissman, a UAW 2865 representative, and Kai Yui Samuel Chan, a UAW 2865 bargaining team member and recording secretary of the UC Berkeley chapter. Of the 75% of UAW members who voted on the strike referendum, 98% voted in favor of a strike, a figure that amounts to 35,000 favorable votes. The move comes in response to the UC system’s alleged unlawful bargaining practices.

“The decision to move forward with a multi-unit statewide strike was made after months of increasing frustration at UC’s intransigence,” Weissman and Chan said in an email. “Since UAW members are struggling to make ends meet every month, we feel we can’t wait around for UC to change course and bargain in good faith on their own time.”

Weissman and Chan alleged the university’s “unlawful tactics” include unilaterally changing their working conditions and refusing to provide information the negotiators need to bargain. They added they have filed more than 20 charges against the university to compel them to bargain in good faith. These charges, along with the university’s responses and upcoming California Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, hearing dates can be found on the UAW strike website.

The PERB website lists two decisions regarding the UC Regents within the last year, of which one concerned Teamsters’ union workers and the other of which concerned disability access.

The UC Office of the President, or UCOP, said they have not engaged in unlawful behavior.

“Throughout the negotiations, UC has listened carefully to the union’s concerns and bargained in good faith, as illustrated by the many tentative agreements reached thus far including on topics underlying the UAW’s allegations,” said UCOP spokesperson Ryan King. “Despite these unfounded claims, UC remains committed to continuing its good faith efforts to reach agreements with UAW as quickly as possible.”

A fact sheet provided by UCOP noted the offers they have currently made to UAW negotiators. For postdocs, the university is offering an average minimum 7.5% salary increase above the current scale, according to the fact sheet. For ASEs, the university is offering 7% wage increases in contract year one with 3% increases each subsequent contract year.

For GSRs, the university is offering to remove the lowest two pay grades, which would result in 17-to-26% pay increases for GSRs currently in these categories, the fact sheet noted. Additionally, the university said the majority of the bargaining unit would see 9-to-10% increases in contract year one with 3% increases every subsequent contract year. For ARs, the university is offering a 4% salary increase in contract year one with 3% rises every subsequent contract year.

These pay increases are in addition to benefits that include additional paid leave, child care benefits and family support for postdocs, ASEs and GSRs as well as full tuition, healthcare, student service and campus fee coverage for eligible ASEs and GSRs.

“UC’s primary goal in these negotiations is achieving multiyear agreements that recognize these employees’ important and highly valued contributions to UC’s teaching and research mission with fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits, and a supportive and respectful work environment,” the fact sheet states.

Isabel Penman, an organizer with Students 4 Labor Action, or SLAM, said membership surveys from UAW have found that 92% of graduate workers and 61% of postdocs are rent-burdened. She added that the UC chancellors allegedly saw a 9% real wage increase this past year.

According to the UAW strike website, UAW negotiators are asking for a $54,000 yearly salary for all graduate workers and a $70,000 yearly salary for all postdocs. They are also asking for a 14% salary increase for ARs, as well as annual cost-of-living adjustments and increases based on experience. Weissman and Chan said their proposal for graduate workers represents less than 3% of the university’s budget.

“Instead of focusing on their cutting-edge research and education, UC Academic Workers instead spend countless hours trying to make ends meet and suffer myriad consequences from the high proportion of their income eaten up by housing,” Penman said in an email.

The strike has received support from Cal Young Democratic Socialists of America, or YDSA, who released a statement urging students to join the strike.

However, a campus undergraduate who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation said they believed the issue was being inflated out of proportion.

“On university campuses, it is very easy to find oneself in a bubble where every injustice, every problem, every inequality casts a longer shadow than how tall it really is,” the student said.

The student added that while they support fair wages for workers, the decision to strike may actually hurt UAW members by potentially causing them to lose sympathy among students whose education will be hindered given the timing of the strike, as it is near the due dates of exams and projects.

According to the student, the university’s proposals are “generous” compared to those offered to other union workers, pointing to Disney workers as an example. The student added that since the strike is in response to the rising cost of living, UAW should scale their wage demands based on the cost of living near each UC campus rather than providing blanket demands.

Penman disagrees and believes in the power of the strike and in their demands.

“It will be hard to miss and an incredible demonstration of worker power and collective action,” Penman said in the email.

Corrections: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Anna Weissman as a UAW representative. In fact, Weissman is a UAW 2865 representative.

Contact Ratul Mangal at 

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NOVEMBER 09, 2022